Thursday, 24 June 2021                           HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY                          Page 6353 – 6354

The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (15:53): Today, I would like to talk about the Royal Australian Air Force centenary celebrations and also the recent 80-year anniversary celebrations of the Port Pirie Bombing and Gunnery School at Port Pirie.

On 16 June this year, the local RSL commemorated the 100-year celebration of the RAAF, the 80th anniversary of the loss of life of the young airmen whilst training at the Port Pirie Bombing and Gunnery School in World War II, and also commemorated Sergeant Reuben Maurice Plummer.

The following message is from Gary Fradd of the Port Pirie RSL sub-branch. He said on the day:

On the 13th of August 1942, Fairey Battle L5759 spun into the sea of Port Pirie and both crew members were killed. The probable cause of the accident was listed as ‘obscure’.

Sergeant Reuben Maurice Plummer, Service Number 408754 (Pilot) and Leading Aircraftman Leslie Gaunt Price, Service Number 38217 were killed on impact. LAC Prices body was recovered from Spencers Gulf and is buried just a few metres from here in the Port Pirie General Cemetery (with a Commonwealth War Graves Headstone) but sadly, there is no mention of Sergeant Plummer on this hallowed ground, whose body was never recovered from the sea.

Reuben’s name is however, inscribed on the Sydney Memorial within the Sydney War Cemetery. His name is listed alongside 748 other men of the Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force and the Australian Merchant Navy who lost their lives in the southwest Pacific region during World War Two, and who have no known grave. Specifically, Reuben’s name is listed on Panel 6 and this is his official commemoration.

However, at the conclusion of the service, Maurice’s niece Judy Briedis gave the following tribute:

Over the years there have been many notable conflicts, some that come to mind. Although Reuben Maurice Plummer was christened Reuben, in the family he was forever known as Maurice.

I will refer to him today as Maurice.

Maurice was born in Koondrook, spent some of his youth in Merbein, and moved to Wonthaggi as an 11 year old.

When Sergeant Maurice Plummer died in that fateful plane crash, his family desperately asked the RAAF, how, when, where and why, did their son and brother die?

How…Plane crash.

When…3pm, 13th August, 1942.

Where…Port Pirie, near the mouth of Second Creek.

Why did he die…This question was asked by the family, over and over again. The [Royal Australian Air Force], without ever recovering the plane or Maurice’s body, continually replied that they could only record it as an aircraft incident. The situation we have here is that Plummer family grief, far outweighed RAAF logic.

The question the family was really asking was,

‘Why isn’t our son and brother coming home?’

There is no satisfactory or acceptable answer to a shattered and heartbroken family.

Let me tell you about the young, single Maurice our family lost. Short in stature. An ideal gentleman that didn’t smoke, drink or swear. A perfect replica of our gentle grandfather.

He participated in many sports such as cricket and football. He was an above average runner and excellent swimmer, which was evidenced by gaining his bronze medallion as an 11 year old. He excelled at tennis, being the district men’s champion, and also golf where he held the local course record for [several years].

Academically, he was somewhat of a boy genius.

He matriculated in 1936, with honours, when still only 15 years old. He passed Maths, Geography, History, English and would you believe…French…

The [Royal Australian Air Force] obviously identified Maurice’s exceptional talents. The normal training period for a RAAF pilot was nine months. Maurice enlisted in May 1941 and in five and a half months attained his flying badge.

Six weeks later he was promoted to Sergeant, and two weeks later, posted to Port Pirie as a flight instructor.

The Plummer family had already been drawn tightly together by grief. They had lost a young sister, Dorothy, in infancy. Then, when Maurice and his three sisters, Edna, Joyce and Gwen, were all teenagers, their mum died of cancer. Such tragedies made the Plummer sibling bond [very] unbreakable.

Now the RAAF were not able to tell the three doting sisters, why wasn’t he coming home. They were devastated by the fact that their extremely gifted young brother was lost, never to return. He was somewhere out there in [the middle of] the ocean. In a deep, dark and cold place, and most of all…alone!

Alone at a time when he most needed his sisters help. He was always there for them in their troubled times, but now, in his desperate time of need, they could not put their arm around him and comfort him.

This is, of course, is the ‘why’ question the Plummer family were asking, and as we all know, there is no answer.

To quote a recent RAAF post about Maurice…’Tragically, his body remains, to this day, lost in his own country without a known grave.’ War time was terrible waste of many brilliant lives.

Maurice Plummer’s nephews and nieces could not be here today [due to COVID restrictions]… Through them we all learnt to love Maurice…

However, we do understand now that Maurice was given a memorial service and a final resting place in Port Pirie. She goes on to say:

The Plummer family gratefully accept that his spirit and soul now reside here, at a tangible place we can visit. Edna, Joyce and Gwen are no longer with us, but you can rest assured, today they are beaming with joy, for their long lost brother is not still alone, but here, reunited with his family.